Page last updated at 11:47 GMT, Wednesday, 17 June 2009 12:47 UK

Recession a boon to Spain's army

By Oana Lungescu
BBC News, Madrid

ging of the guard in Madrid
Polished breast-plates glint in the sun as the royal guard is changed

Spain has the worst unemployment rate in the EU, but not everyone is complaining.

One of the main beneficiaries of the crisis has been the armed forces. With youth unemployment standing at 36%, the highest in Europe, the number of army recruits has almost doubled.

Just before 0900, young men line up outside the army recruitment office in the centre of Madrid. Once the doors open, they go through a security check, then file into a spacious office lined with posters of smiling young people in uniform.

They have come to meet representatives of the army, navy and air force, in the hope of finding a new future.

Most of those seeking a military career are driven by Spain's stark economic realities. "I am here because of the crisis," says Emilio, 18.

"I need a job and it pays a regular wage. I was a locksmith and labourer but they fired me four months ago. My benefit is coming to an end, so I am here because I need to eat," he says.

"At the moment there is not much work around so the army is good because it is a stable job," adds Felipe, also 18. "Everything else I have looked at is temporary, so I am after something more secure."

Jorge, 20, already has a good job close to home, but he wants to join the paratroopers or the special forces. "In my case," he says, "it is a vocation, unlike lots of people here who see it as a job."


It is not just locals who are applying.

Robert, 19, is from Ecuador. He wants to join the army because it is an opportunity to study for free.

Other immigrants see it as a way of acquiring Spanish citizenship. Latin Americans can account for 9% of the Spanish armed forces.

Here in Madrid, applications have surged by a third. Col Juan Carlos Aneiros Gallardo believes the surge is due to recent improvements in the living conditions, professional training and career prospects for young recruits.

"Naturally, we are happy," he told me, "because this allows the armed forces to make a better selection and raise not just the quantity but also the quality of our soldiers."

In other parts of Spain, there are four applicants for each vacancy.

Spanish army recruitment office in Madrid
For some the army brings citizenship, for others a steady wage

For the first time since the country abolished compulsory service in 2001, the army will not have to struggle to reach its full force of 86,000.

Young recruits may dream of parading on horseback, polished breast-plates glinting in the sun, at the solemn changing of the royal guard. But some of these soldiers served in Afghanistan.

The paramilitary Guardia Civil, also on show at the royal palace in Madrid, are on the frontline in the fight against terrorism and take part in missions across the world, including Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti and Africa.

Julian Perez, from the officers' union, says they too are getting more interest from young people. "This year we have 40,000 applicants and the previous one we had 27,000 applicants," Mr Perez explains.

"I am absolutely not surprised, because the economic situation forced them to do it. Every time we have an economic crisis, people want to have security."

Poor prospects

Three o'clock is lunchtime at the warehouse-like canteen of Spain's leading university, the Complutense. On its sprawling campus, 80,000 students take courses in anything, from arts to engineering.

But a recent study shows that 93% of Spanish students are seriously worried about their job prospects.

Carlos Pascual graduated from the Complutense two years ago. He also studied in the Netherlands and worked in Prague for a while. But he has been unemployed for three months, after getting fired from a travel agency in Madrid because of the crisis.

It is not how he imagined his life. "I studied at university for five years, I travelled abroad to learn English and thinking of working in a factory or as a bartender is quite depressing, " Carlos says.

Carlos Pascual
Carlos is depressed about being unemployed but hopes for the best

"I decided to go to my parents' house because I do not want to keep on paying rent. I started a little piece of my life as an adult and I have to restart," he says.

Carlos is philosophical about the prospects for his generation: "I hope it will be a good future, but now we are a bit lost."

Lourdes Garcia, the head of the university career centre, says many people who graduated years ago are coming back looking for advice.

"We are seeing lots of people who have been fired from the media, as well as people from advertising and architecture," Mr Garcia says.

"We have also been advising quite a few managers, executives who had very senior positions, great CVs, but who have lost their jobs."

'Fear and frustration'

At the end of a long hot day, I happen upon a sort of late-night picnic in a square in central Madrid. It is just before midnight but still warm.

About 200 young people are sitting cross-legged on the ground in small groups, eating pizza and swigging beer from cans. Every few minutes, Chinese traders come offering to sell more beer.

Arancha and her friends are all students about to graduate. How do they feel about the future? The first word on everybody's lips is fear.

Arancha (second from right) and her friends
Spanish students are not optimistic about finding jobs after graduation

"I feel fear about it," Arancha says. "I am going to keep studying, but it is difficult. There is no job, no money, anything."

"My sister graduated two years ago and she is really nervous too because everybody she knows is getting fired," she says.

"When I think about the future, I feel frustration and fear," Tere adds, "fear that I will not be able to do something that I really want to do, that I feel happy with."

Daniel thinks that Spain will find it difficult for years to come to create jobs for all the young people about to graduate, so he is planning to look for work abroad.

But it is not something they like to talk about. "Here in Spain, we like to take it easy," Arancha laughs. "It is hot, we are all here and I try not to think too much about it!"

With little to look forward to, the motto for Spain's young jobless seems to be Que sera, sera.

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